Horticulturist and writer
Barbara is a well-known horticulturist and garden writer. She edits magazines, and is the author of 13 books, the latest of which is Secret Gardens of the South East, and blogs at www.thegardenpost.com Barbara is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture and editor of its magazine, The Horticulturist. She is an Assistant County Organiser for the National Gardens Scheme in Suffolk, and an active member of numerous horticultural societies and organisations.
Your three favourite flowers?
I love different flowers in different seasons... snowdrops to kick off the early part of the year. I am not a dedicated snowdropper but I do love to see them in swathes as well as close up. Then in summer I love the flowers of herbs such as
fennel, chervil and chives. In late summer it is all dahlias, dahling... I just love their shapes and sizes and wonderful colours..
Tell us about your childhood garden?
I grew up at the seaside north of Durban in what is now called Kwa-Zulu Natal. It is semi-tropical and the colourful foliage of shrubs such as crotons and calyphas were the backdrop for orchids and colourful climbers, such as the
Honolulu vine. The earth was a rich red and it was hard not to be green-fingered.
Who or what inspired your career choice?
When I was a small person I met a friend of my parents’ who had been the editor of the South China Morning Post. It seemed such an exotic title... and so journalism was my natural choice. I have always been excited by newsprint and
newspaper offices... but of course the way newspapers are produced has changed hugely.
What is a typical day in the life of Barbara?
I am an early bird, downstairs for a cup of coffee and a garden wander checking what is in flower or ready to harvest. Then either to my desk to write or a thinking walk out on the water meadow around my town, Sudbury in Suffolk. I
might wander out again to the garden to weed and water.
No garden is complete without …
Masses of herbs, several benches and at least one drinking station!
Something we’d find:
On your bedside table:
Always a pile of books.... the Japanese word a collection of unread books is ‘tsundoku’... and that is what I have plenty of...
In your flower arrangement:
Leaves, flowers, stems and berries from the garden in season.
In your garden shed:
Order at the beginning of the garden season followed by chaos as the year
The flaw you wish you didn’t have?
Hoarding... I find it difficult to decide when time is up for things.
What would you be in another life?
A mother and a grandmother...
Tread lightly on the earth if I can... and hopefully make friends happy.
Who is a horticultural hero?
The late Beth Chatto. I loved the way she gardened and I was fortunate to interview her and visit her garden many times.
What is the one flower or plant you’d never plant in your garden, but don’t detest when you see others plant it?
I can only think of plants I can’t have because of space... so while I won’t plant a mulberry I would love to enjoy the fruits of someone else’s tree!
If there was a fire, and you could only keep one book on gardens or gardening, what would it be?
William Robinson’s The English Flower Garden, first published in 1883 and my edition reprinted in 1897. If I were allowed a second book it would be The Vegetable Garden by the seed merchant Vilmorin-Andrieux of Paris. The English Edition published in 1885 was under the direction of William Robinson.
For posterity, what would you like your work to be known for?
Good research and interesting stories about people who garden, gardens and plants.
Quick fire: some favourite things
Book (fiction): Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Film: Elvira Madigan
Painting: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges
Smell: Crushed foliage of basil
Meal: A herb-rich omelette
Travel Destination: Venice
A cause near and dear to me: Perennial, a charity that supports people in
Place to go for inspiration: seaside
A great walk near where you live: Sudbury Water Meadow and Old Railway
Thing to collect obsessively: small jugs
Museum: Emery Walker House in Hammersmith, London
Favourite person to follow on Instagram: @thegentleauthor
Garden in the UK: East Ruston Old Vicarage
Garden anywhere else: Chanticleer in USA
Image of Barbara by Marcus Harpur